Niklas Morberg sent me an e-mail about planner.el support for Dave
Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method. This is the first time I’ve
heard of it, but it’d be nice to see if we can hack planner to support it.
The Coach’s Corner on the
linked site has well-thought articles.
I archive as much of my mail as possible because it’s easy to search
through information. Creating tasks from e-mail messages allows me to
quickly deal with e-mail associated with actions. I can create vague
tasks and refine them as necessary, although the associated task is
usually clear. Gnus hides old messages, so my Inbox view shows me only
unread messages unless I specifically ask for archives.
I prefer to archive everything instead of making keep/no-keep
decisions for my e-mail. I have false positives (mail that I thought
might be important but which I never referred to again) and false
negatives (mail I hardly looked at, but needed to find afterwards). I
rely on search and filtering tools to quickly pull relevant messages
out of my archive. I think that this is more effective than frequent
review and selection of messages to be kept.
I remember reading a paper about e-mail archiving strategies. I ran a
full-text search for a phrase I remembered from the mail, and I turned
up the PDF that the author sent me. You can look up Richard Boardman’s
paper on “‘Stuff goes into the computer and doesn’t come out': A
Cross-tool Study of Personal Information Management”—it’s an
informative survey of different e-mail filing techniques.
The GTD method suggests determining what the successful outcomes are
(“projects”), what my next action is and what I am waiting for.
planner.el supports “next action” and “waiting for” with unfinished
and pending tasks. I specify desired outcome in the task description.
I don’t have a concept of “Project” yet, unless you count the plan
Visualizing the expected outcome makes it easier to plan tasks and
overcome procrastination. planner.el has no explicit support for
reminding the user of the positive outcome associated with the task,
but it can be included in the task description or on the linked
project page. A better approach, however, might be to have the
expected outcome show as a tooltip or minibuffer message in order to
provide better positive reinforcement.
John Wiegley’s essay on planning uses top-down stepwise refinement to
break general tasks down into smaller and smaller tasks until they can
be scheduled. This overcomes procrastination by making planning a
semi-mechanical process and simplifying the tasks until they are no
longer intimidatingly complex.
In contrast, the GTD method suggests starting with the immediate next
step—a bottom-up approach. This is similar to the way I use
planner.el, planning one or two tasks in advance. Occasionally,
however, I find it useful to create overview tasks. This gives me an
overview of the entire project and allows me to get a handle on my
I’ve used other personal information managers before, but
Emacs+planner+remember makes it easy for me to keep track of my work.
If I think of something to be done, a few keystrokes will put it on my
I capture a lot of information. remember.el makes it easy for me to
create short blog entries linked to the current context and associated
with a date and planner page.
So yes, I do ‘this’ for everything. Being able to reschedule tasks for
future dates means I don’t have to worry about things until then. Of
course, I tend to procrastinate a fair bit (specifying tomorrow with
+1 comes in handy!), but it’s nice to know that I’ll eventually run
into those tasks again. If planner.el reminded me of the benefits of
completing the task, I’ll probably be more motivated to finish them.
(More description text?)
Oy, here we go with that procrastination thing. Guilty! Being able to
reschedule tasks does make it all too easy to push things onto a pile
of things to be done later. However, having all these actions floating
around does mean I have no excuse to slack off (unless scheduled in).
This particular essay is a bit on the fluffy side, though.
This article points out the need to examine how we work, not just make
superficial changes to our space.
Ah. “Projects” are like plan pages in that they are collections of
tasks. However, plan pages can also be roles or contexts.
planner.el needs a good way to review active projects. Right now,
people can manually maintain a list. However, one needs to visit all
the individual project pages in order to visualize the end results or
see how far one has gotten based on the tasks.
A graph would be nice. It could show only active projects (projects
with at least one unfinished task) or all projects (possibly limited
by date or regexp.) Progress could be measured by ratio of unfinished
tasks to all tasks, or manually indicated by a #progress directive or
some kind of progress marker in each task.
I review tasks every day, but maybe I could also review the end
results every week as part of an accomplishment report. The
accomplishment report could list statistics for tasks finished
(grouped by project) and allow easy viewing of current projects (all
projects mentioned in tasks/notes this week). How can we modify
planner.el to support that?
Hmm. Maybe we should phrase our tasks and notes in a positive manner.
– From the FAQ
How can I can remember things that are on my calendar but aren’t time-specific?
Sounds like the problem I have with un-dated tasks. GTD gets around
this by having people review pages based on their context. After going
through all of your day-specific tasks, you can then go through your
context-based action lists to find out what to do next.
Context-based action lists is probably more efficient if most of your
work is guided by context. It can be simulated in planner.el by
associating the tasks with plan pages for each context. However, since
most of my work centers on the computer, I like seeing a list of all
my tasks. I prefer to sit down and plan my day beforehand, rearranging
tasks so that I put similar tasks together. If the opportunity arises,
I can do tasks out of sequence.
In GTD, day-specifics are tasks that MUST be done on that day. I
prefer having my low-priority tasks still visible, using high-priority
tasks and deadlines in task descriptions to mark the things I should
do by today. Some people plan their tasks the GTD way, though.
Specifying ‘nil’ for a task date allows you to associate it with a
plan page but no date page. Scheduling only day-specific tasks makes
sure you don’t ignore your task list, so I guess that’s a good thing.
How do you handle weekly tasks that are not specific to a particular day of the week?
I assign weekly tasks to a particular day. Makes it easier to get into the rhythm of things.
Most of the day I am dealing with actions I am expected to do. Most of them have a due date. Where should I place my reminder?
Okay, I’m starting to get the hang of the next-action thing. To
support GTD, I’d need a way to get a quick overview of the next-step
tasks as part of the list of active projects. I’d also need to be able
to look at today’s schedule and today’s day-specific task list.
Tech note: It looks like planner.el can be extended to do this by
adding a tag that gets replaced by project outcome and the first task.
The main problem we need to solve is that tasks can appear on more
than two pages. I think this can almost be done with existing tools.
However, planner-copy-or-move-region shouldn’t mess with these tasks.
It’s probably better to create new markup rules for them…
Is it true that David Allen uses the generic Palm Desktop and handheld software, and doesn’t particularly recommend any add-on programs?
I find remember.el an excellent way of tracking events, as it gives me
a historical log as well as a topic-tracked one. I need to find a way
to reassign topics and add multiple topics to a note. This depends on
getting note IDs to work.
Areas of focus vs. someday/maybe
Tech note: Hmm. This sounds like a good candidate for automatic
rewriting. People can manually maintain a list of projects, and have
outcomes and next tasks automatically filled in.
How do you recommend keeping project notes and/or support material?
Ooh, planner hyperlinking is great for that. I keep most of my support
materials in my planner wiki and hyperlink out when I need to refer to
external sources or files on my hard disk.
Hey, this agenda idea is interesting.
Sounds like a good idea too. Hmm. I can page through the week easily,
but it would be nice to have an accomplishment report.